Ritual Experience

A dynastic installation honoring the family of Theodosius I was displayed directly across the Sacred Way from the paired statues of Honorius with Stilicho.  There, a statue of the matriarch of the Theodosian family, Thermantia, stood out; hers was the only late antique portrait of a woman in the entire Forum and its inscription mentioned that she was an ancestor of Honorius even though it was produced before his appointment as emperor.[1] Ceionius Rufius Albinus, a senator serving as urban prefect, had set up the large dynastic grouping in 389 that joined Thermantia’s representation with statues depicting Theodosius I, Arcadius, and Valentinian II.  Three inscriptions identifying the members of the imperial college who celebrated a victory over the usurper Maximus using identical phrasing.  Each portrait thus was dedicated to the “destroyer of tyranny and founder of public safety” (EXTINCTORI TYRANNORUM AC PUBLICAE SECURITAT(IS) AUCTORI);[2] comparisons were drawn to the nearby equestrian statue of Constantius II erected in 357 with an inscription praising the “destroyer of pernicious tyranny” (EXTINCTORI PESTIFERAE TYRANNIDIS).[3] The repetition of an earlier inscription illustrated the culture of appropriation, which also found expression in the subsequent reuse of equestrian statue bases.  Stilicho’s statue also documented the claimed link to the Theodosian family. Claudian’s poem about the ritual in 404 presented an answer to complaints of Romans who lamented Honorius’ long absences.  Claudian allows Honorius to voice his own reply to Rome, stating: “I sent you Stilicho, so that as consul in his Emperor’s place and as father-in-law for his son-in-law, he might, Roma, fill my part for you.”[4] The Theodosian dynastic group was represented at human scale situated relatively close to the ground level.  As a result, the statue group depicting the co-ruling Theodosian emperors set up a juxtaposition with the trio of statues all depicting emperor Constantius II that lined the eastern edge of the piazza.  At colossal scale, Constantius II was shown in three images with three separate inscriptions repeating the exact same phrases.[5] The Theodosian dynasty crafted a representational strategy, in contrast to the overwhelming pride of Constantius II, rooted in the family’s origins traced back to Thermantia.

  1. [1] CIL.VI.36960.  For the Theodosian dynastic monument, see Wolfgang Messerschmidt, “Die statuarische Repräsentation des theodosianischen Kaiserhauses in Rom,” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung 111 (2004), 555-567.
  2. [2] CIL.VI.3791a; 3791b; 36959.
  3. [3] CIL.V. 1158.
  4. [4] Claudian, VI. Cons. 431-433: “advectae misso Stilichone curules, / ut nostras tibi, Roma, vices pro principe consul / inpleret generoque socer.”  Trans. M. Dewar (1996) 31.
  5. [5] CIL.VI. 1161; 1162; 31395:  All three inscriptions repeat the same text,  PROPAGATORI IMPERII / ROMANI D(omino) N(ostro) Fl(avio) IULIO/ CONSTANTIO MAXIMO  / TOTO ORBE VICTORI / AC TRIUMF(atori) SEMP(er) AUG (usto) / MEMMIUS VITRASIUS /  ORFITUS V(ir) C(larissimus) ITERUM / PRAEF(ectus) URBI IUDEX/ SAC(rarum) COGN(itionum) TERT(ium) D(evotus) N(umini) M(aiestati)Q(ue) E(ius).